Sharon Tries to Escape Implementation of the Mitchell Report,U.S. Still Hesitant

Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and his government were largely consistent with their views regarding to the work and report of the Sharm El-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee (Mitchell Report). Mr. Sharon did not like the Committee or its recommendations and seemed to desire for the report to disappear. Before meeting with the members of the Committee, Mr. Sharon publicly announced that it was a strategic mistake for Israel to accept the Committee’s establishment. Later, when the Israeli government received the Committee’s report, it rejected two of its basic recommendations such as: the full cessation of settlement activities along with the harsh criticism directed at the Israeli army.

At a later stage, the Israeli public position was adjusted to appear as if Israel accepted the report, while it was in fact escaping the implementation of its recommendations. Further, the Israeli government invented the notion of "separate stages" of implementation of the report and then invented the period of "quiet" to precede implementation. In reality, the report never set forth "separate stages" and, more importantly, implementation of the set of recommendations in its entirety is considered the solution for ending the violence and resuming peace negotiations.

In the meantime, the Israeli occupying forces have continued with their military campaign against the Palestinian people. They have maintained the presence of additional troops, including their heavy weaponry, in their "new" positions, preventing any free movement of persons and goods within the Palestinian Territory and with the outside world. They have also continued with their incursions even further into the areas under Palestinian control, destroying homes, orchards and infrastructure. Even worse, they have continued killing Palestinians, including as a result of the policy of extrajudicial killings or assassinations of targeted Palestinians. This is unquestionably a war crime that has been condemned by the entire international community and for which the Sharon government must be held accountable. (See related statement of U.N. Secretary-General on p.4.) Throughout all of this, the Israeli side claims that the Palestinian side is not complying with the cease-fire agreement and thus should be punished. Further, in addition to the above-mentioned violations, the Israeli government persists with its refusal to implement the Mitchell Report and subsequent understandings, including those worked out by CIA director George Tenet and later U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

All of the above indicates that the government of Mr. Sharon intends to escalate the violence and intensify and broaden its attacks on the Palestinian Authority, instead of reducing violence and tension through the honest implementation of the Mitchell Report. Alternatively, it might be the absence of any strategy on the part of Mr. Sharon, except escaping implementation of the Mitchell Report - especially the cessation of settlement activity - that might be driving the actions and positions of his government. Both are not promising possibilities.

The international community has expressed concern about what is happening due to the apparent Israeli attempt to avoid implementation of the Mitchell Report. Unfortunately, however, the most influential party, which is the United States, does not seem consistent with its positions regarding the situation and especially with regard to implementation of the report. Unlike the impression created by the meeting between Mr. Bush and Prime Minister Sharon, the visit of the U.S. Secretary of State to the region conveyed U.S. acceptance of Israeli tactics.

During the visit, the Secretary agreed with the Palestinian side that it would be the U.S. who will call for the beginning of the implementation of the Mitchell Report. He further publicly endorsed the idea of having observers or monitors to supervise the implementation by both parties. Unfortunately, the Secretary seemed to backtrack after his meeting with the Israeli side when he then agreed that it would be Mr. Sharon who will call for the beginning of the implementation of the report. In addition, he also retracted most of what he said earlier regarding the idea of observers.

At worst, the U.S. position provides a cover for the Israeli side to thwart the Mitchell Report and get away with it. At best, it represents hesitance on the part of the U.S. to confront Mr. Sharon with the aim of actually implementing the report. Even this best case scenario is not good enough for this tragic situation to end. We need a decisive position for the faithful implementation of the Mitchell Report followed by an even more decisive position regarding the resumption of the negotiations in compliance with the agreed upon basis, namely Security Council resolutions 242 and the principle of land for peace.